Taylor Kaplan

Snap Sounds: Brian Eno



The liner notes to Brian Eno’s Music for Airports (1978) act as a veritable Ambient Manifesto, outlining the philosophy of a genre he developed as an alternative to Muzak, and other background fluff. In the final sentence, he asserted, “Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.” By that count, Eno’s solo Warp debut, LUX, is his most successful foray into ambient territory in quite some time.

A fluid composition presented in four parts, LUX recalls the aesthetic consistency of other protracted works (namely 1985’s Thursday Afternoon and 1993’s Neroli) while employing the broader tonal palette, and diversified instrumentation (guitar, bass, piano and violin, united by lingering, electronic drones) that defined his Ambient 1-4 series.

The result is a remarkably versatile album, shapeless and unobtrusive enough to float in the background and shade the atmosphere, yet dynamic and mutative enough to reward the scrutiny of active listening. Surely, Eno has a number of stronger albums under his belt, but never has he explored the grey area between “ignorable” and “interesting” so delicately.


Haunted house



MUSIC After a decade of tinkering on the fringes of lo-fi experimentalism, Ariel Pink has become synonymous with a distinctive production sensibility: submerging effortless, sun-drenched pop hooks in a queasy, viscous haze, like an impulsive, basement-dwelling Phil Spector for the 21st century.

From Worn Copy (2005) to Before Today (2010), Pink’s universe seemed to hinge on this murky aesthetic, making this year’s Mature Themes all the more confounding. Despite its clean, competent studio polish, Pink’s newest effort exudes all the vague perversity and outsider spirit of his most radically fuzzed-out 8-track explorations.

Next Monday, Pink will appear at Bimbo’s 365 Club in support of Mature Themes, armed with the Haunted Graffiti project, and the tightest lineup of his backing band to date.

Whereas many bedroom producers have lost their way in the transition to studio recording, (largely due to a forfeiture of creative control), Pink’s success in this new environment is attributable to a rigidly independent approach.

“We basically lived at the studio that we built ourselves… over the span of six, seven months,” Pink explains over the phone, from his home in LA. “It gave us the opportunity to… let ourselves get loose and comfortable. That’s the whole goal, I think… you don’t want to be keeping track of time. You’re not going to take certain risks.”

Surely enough, Mature Themes abounds with risky maneuvers, from the Ween-esque genre-emulsifying “Is This the Best Spot?,” to the lo-meets-hi-fi clash of “Schnitzel Boogie.”

“A song like ‘Schnitzel Boogie’ is not gonna come [about] when you’re punching clock at the studio,” Pink observes.

He would know, given his first foray into studio territory, which resulted in Before Today: the crossover hit that catapulted the Haunted Graffiti project to Pitchfork-level acclaim in 2010. It’s the most immediately engaging, song-oriented effort of Pink’s career thus far. However, he contends that even “Round and Round”‘s pop brilliance was the product of a torturous, creativity-stifling recording process.

“It gets expensive, very quickly, if you’re in somebody else’s studio, and there’s somebody else engineering you,” Pink says. “Really, it’s better if we just don’t involve anybody else.”

Bedroom producers are, by nature, control freaks: commanding the direction of their own creative universe with little regard for outside perspective. Therein lies Mature Themes‘ success; although the album finds Pink backed by a band for just the second time, it resembles the unfiltered product of a singular mind, much like his formative recordings.

Pink’s eccentricity, and his ever-expanding influence among laptop auteurs, can be credited to a self-described “aesthetic of all-inclusiveness.” Instead of cherry-picking artistic influences, or even preferences, his objective is to jam the entire art-world indiscriminately through his musical meat-grinder.

“I always did what I did with the notion of dispelling any kind of genre formality,” Pink says. “I wanted to make experimental music, [but] in the form of pop music, like some sort of joke.”

Truly postmodern, this philosophy hinges on isolating and extracting musical idioms, and reassembling those ideas in a new context. Given Hype Williams’ omnivorous sampling techniques, Neon Indian’s confused retro-futurism, and the scathing consumer-culture indictments of James Ferraro (who will share the bill on Monday), Pink’s all-inclusive approach has manifested itself far and wide, generating not just a trend, but a zeitgeist.

Revealingly, when pressed to explain the thread between “chillwave” and “hypnagogic pop,” Neon Indian and Ferraro, Pink declares, “that thread is really my contribution, I feel.”

From pop artistry to vanguard tinkering, Pink refracts a heaping pile of musical possibilities through Mature Themes‘ warped lens, making a strong case for himself as the unifying figure of an otherwise fragmented musical landscape.


With Dam-Funk, Bodyguard (James Ferraro) Mon/1, 8pm, $20 Bimbo’s 365 Club 1025 Columbus, SF (415) 474-0365 www.bimbos365club.com

Snap Sounds: Laetitia Sadier



In her 20 years as the lead singer of Stereolab, Laetitia Sadier has dependably imparted a vital, earthy humanity to her band’s sterile, mechanized productions.

In turn, on Silencio, her newest full-length, Sadier forgoes Stereolab’s rigid aura, in favor of a warmer, airier sound, more relaxed in approach, and endearing in its lack of cohesion.

Jumping between sun-kissed bossa nova tributes (“Moi Sans Zach”), psych-lounge numbers a la Air (“There is a Price to Pay for Freedom”), and breezy, Yo La Tengo-ish pop tunes (“Auscultation to the Nation”), Silencio allows Sadier’s various musical influences to breathe and linger, without being upstaged by the motorik propulsion, and Jetsons kitsch, of the Stereolab formula. An ideal sunny-day-in-the-Mission-with-headphones record.


Criminal and beyond: Fiona Apple’s evolution


You could say Fiona Apple belongs to an endangered species. One of the heavyweights in a lineage of 1990s major-label iconoclasts, dedicated to the conceptual potential of the album format, (Bjork, Spiritualized, PJ Harvey, Nine Inch Nails) Apple has built a 15-year career on making approachable, yet arty, pop music with indie-label integrity, and an undercurrent of fringe appeal.

After making a big splash with the sultry music-video to her first hit single, “Criminal” (1996), she shrewdly abandoned any MTV-vixen ambitions, in favor of foregrounding her musical and lyrical ability, and her remarkably versatile, jazz-inflected vocal range; as a result, she’s one of the few artists of her generation to transition from stardom to cult status, and not the other way around.

Taking her sweet time between albums, Apple has also proven herself to be one of the more elusive singer-songwriters of her time. Released earlier this year, The Idler Wheel... marked the end of a seven-year hiatus, and in testament to her increasingly highbrow rank in the music world, it’s the most difficult, demanding work of her career thus far.

On Tuesday, Apple will return to San Francisco (she played Oakland’s Fox Theater earlier this summer) as she graces the Warfield stage with her bold new material, and (presumably) a retrospective of the equally distinctive records that came before. Read on for a rundown of Apple’s artistic progression throughout the years; each of her four albums marks a watershed, in an ever-changing, ever-complex musical evolution.

from Tidal (1996)


The album, the single, and the video that started it all. A story of the power and persuasiveness of female sexuality in a world full of horndogs, the video was right on mark, lyrically. Musically speaking, it’s a knockout, simmering with jazzy nuance, yet powering forward with the hearty chug of a great rock song. Producer Jon Brion’s “Strawberry Fields Forever” organ is applied liberally, (foreshadowing his increased presence on her next record) and the whole thing culminates in a funky, two-minute jam session, as unnecessary and impractical as it is generous and viscerally gripping. Singles like this don’t make their way to MTV anymore.

“On the Bound”
from When the Pawn… (2000)


Largely a defensive gesture against the sexed-up image generated by her MTV breakthrough, When the Pawn… is the record which firmly prioritized Apple’s art over her public persona. It’s the album that established her as an enduring musician in control of her own destiny, instead of a flash-in-the-pan curiosity, tethered to the ‘90s like Alanis Morissette. Opening track, “On the Bound” announces her intent forcefully, bolstering her earthy, overtone-rich vocals with a muscular piano riff, and beautifully layered production from Brion. When the Pawn… found Apple’s songwriting and vocal maturity growing into themselves, and dispelled any notions that her debut was just some teenage fluke.

“Red Red Red”
from Extraordinary Machine (2005)


If When the Pawn… found Apple transitioning from pop wunderkind to serious musician, Extraordinary Machine announced her artistic integrity like never before. However, the album’s actual content is largely upstaged by the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-esque story of its creation. Initially produced by Jon Brion in 2003, the LP was scrapped by Epic Records, who wanted a Tidal retread, and expressed ambivalence surrounding its marketability. After re-recording from scratch, with a team of new producers, Extraordinary Machine finally saw an official release in 2005.

While not a game-changer to the degree of When the Pawn…, the record continued Apple’s bold evolution, sporting thicker arrangements and production, and a heightened emphasis on electronic textures. Above are two versions of “Red Red Red.” First is Brion’s production: dynamic, and hard-hitting, in contrast with the relatively muted, Brian Kehew-produced rendition that made the final cut. In the end, the narrative behind Extraordinary Machine’s tense creative process significantly shaped Apple’s current image as an elusive, Kate Bush-ian perfectionist.

“Left Alone”
from The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (2012)


Gone are the cascading strings and richly textured compositions. Bone-dry, thorny, and more challenging than any other record she’s made, The Idler Wheel… is Apple’s King of Limbs moment. With her piano placed squarely in the center, the album’s production bears the simple sound of a band playing together in a room. This sparseness highlights Apple’s jazz tendencies more effectively than ever.

While the ornate, studio-sorcery of Extraordinary Machine never denied her vocals the ability to soar, The Idler Wheel’s emphasis on empty space puts the nuances, cracks, and overtones of Apple’s mighty voice under a microscope, imparting a level of vulnerability we’ve never heard from her before. “Left Alone” showcases the striking versatility of Apple’s pipes as well as any other track in her repertoire.

So, what’s next? Will Apple continue down the path of unadorned, austere textures introduced by The Idler Wheel…? Or, will she pull the rug out from under her loyal fanbase yet again, and embark on yet another daring reinvention? This uncertainty is one of the most compelling reasons to watch Apple: one of the shrewdest, most enterprising singer-songwriters of her time.

Fiona Apple
With Blake Mills
Tues/11, 8pm, $62-72.50
982 Market, SF
(415) 345-0900

Deltron 3030 is back


After releasing their self-titled debut LP to cultish acclaim in 2000, Bay Area hip-hop supergroup Deltron 3030 mysteriously dropped off the radar for over a decade, resulting in borderline Chinese Democracy levels of superfan speculation. Now, with their follow-up, Deltron Event II, finished and slated for release this fall, the trio is going all out on their first North American tour since the project’s revival.

This Sunday, rap icon Del the Funky Homosapien (or Del tha Funkee Homosapien), producer Dan the Automator, and turntablist Kid Koala, will descend upon Mountain View’s Shoreline Amphitheater on their second Rock the Bells tour stop as Deltron 3030, for a homecoming spectacular determined to exceed their devoted fan-base’s already lofty expectations.

As demonstrated by the triumphant live premiere of Deltron Event II in Toronto this past June, and in the YouTube videos that circulated in its aftermath, the trio’s comeback tour is anything but a low-key affair. “We’re literally bringing a string section, a horn section, and a choir,” Dan the Automator told the Guardian over the phone from his SF studio. “I mean, rap doesn’t do that. We’re in our own lane. There’s no actual comparative group to deal with, except ourselves.”


Dan’s assertion would recall Mike Tyson’s infamous post-prizefight gloating, if he weren’t totally right. Truth be told, Deltron 3030’s ambitious live approach presents a striking departure from hip-hop’s bare-bones, DIY origins.

“It’s an experience,” Del said from his home in Oakland. “It ain’t the same old walkin’ back and forth, two turntables, yelling in a microphone, not really doing nothing… This is an extravaganza.”

Having produced, recorded, and engineered a vast range of musical projects, from Kool Keith, to Gorillaz, to Primal Scream, Dan is no stranger to ambitious undertakings. However, the logistical planning of Deltron 3030’s current touring lineup stands tall as the mightiest accomplishment of his career thus far.

“I came up with the idea, and everybody else helped pull it off,” Dan explained. “Then, we had to do charts, score the music, get all the people, find how we can get that many people to a place. I don’t want to say it was a stupid idea, because it was a great idea. [Laughs] It was an incredibly naive undertaking, but it’s awesome that we got to do it.”

Del was similarly awestruck at the depth of Dan’s achievement. “It’s amazing, to me, how he had this vision, and really made it happen. Of course, it took some work, but he’s up there with the tuxedo on, with the baton in his hand, conducting. And I’m like, ‘Wow! OK, this is really happening.’ Plus, for some reason, I don’t know where his power comes from. I guess, because he’s the Automator.”

Whereas Dan functions as Deltron 3030’s chief organizer, and the primary force behind the project’s aesthetic foundation, Del is largely responsible for the underlying mythology. Set in an Orwellian dystopia, 1000 years in the future, and filtered through the observations of protagonist Deltron Zero, Deltron 3030 evoked the structure of rock operas such as Tommy, Ziggy Stardust, and The Wall, in its insistence upon narrative drive and the establishment of a distinctive universe all its own.

Partly in response to tumultuous changes in the real world since 2000 (9/11; the ensuing police state, and wars in the Middle East; Occupy Wall Street) Deltron Event II illustrates a society that has only grown bleaker and more demoralized.

“It’s a Mad Max type of world,” Del philosophized. “Everybody went too far, so to speak. Everything is just trashed; there’s no law; criminals just took over the streets, basically, so you just gotta get in where you can fit in, just make it happen however you gonna make it happen. It’s like anarchy, basically. It’s everybody for themselves.”

From his home in Montreal, Kid Koala discussed Deltron 3030’s futuristic approach, and its capacity to address the zeitgeist of 2012 more effectively than a narrative set in current times.

“Even though it’s set in the future,” he explained, “it’s not really about us being on some crazy laser quest… it’s actually talking about real issues. The economy, the class system… but, I guess, had we set it in the actual present day, it would just come off as more preachy, or something.”

Given the largely personal, apolitical nature of Del’s solo material, and his much celebrated work with Hieroglyphics, his resistance to heavy-handed politicking is understandable.

“Deltron is kind of separate from what I do with Del. With Del, I try to be more direct, to the ground, to the earth, try to talk directly to people. And it’s usually about real life situations. Just being able to deal and cope with personal types of problems or issues… and just striving. That’s what that’s about. With Deltron, I just tried to make a novel and put it in a musical format.”

Outlining his literary approach, Del cited Orwell’s 1984 as having a major effect on Deltron Event II’s conceptual framework, but the project’s key influence behind might come as a surprise.

“My main inspiration came from Megaman X,” Del explained. “It was the same game, basically, but the graphics were stepped up: more glossy, more futuristic, just looked real spiffy. It wasn’t as bubbly and cartoony as the first one. It looked modern. You had modern types of weapons and stuff. It really sent [me] a message, like, ‘Ok, that’s how you can do Del, too: put him in this future world, and he’ll be the same Del, but he’ll be able to do different little things that the regular Del can’t do.’”

High gloss, modern weapons, and a world gone down the tubes: that’s the state of affairs in the Deltron universe, circa 3040. But, despite the hopelessness of the world they’ve created, Dan, Del, and Koala are confident in Deltron Event II’s ability to justify a 12-year hiatus.

“I think it crushes the first one,” Kid Koala proclaimed. “The three of us, individually, are just better at our crafts now. We just tried to raise the bar on ourselves, really.”

A glance at the Rock the Bells lineup reveals a wealth of esteemed artists, and genuine game-changers in the world of hip-hop: Method Man and Redman, Ice Cube, Nas, Common. However, Deltron 3030’s almost absurdly ambitious live approach puts them in an entirely different league.

“As far as the artistic aspect, intrinsically, there’s nothing like this,” Dan insisted. “There never has been, and I doubt there ever will be.”

Deltron 3030
Sun/26, 6:45-7:45pm
Paid Dues Stage; Rock the Bells
$265 for two-day tickets
Shoreline Amphitheatre
1 Amphitheatre, Mountain View

Skrillex vs Stevie Wonder at Outside Lands


Surveying the rabid Skrillex crowd, I felt old for one of the first times in my life. Like, John McCain, “get off my lawn” old. Who the hell was this mall punk with a Miley Cyrus haircut, anyway? What, in God’s name, has he inflicted upon the music world? And why, oh why, did this hoard of tweens, bros, and “cool-dads” choose to undergo Skrillex’s sonic weedwacking, instead of running into the arms of living-legend Stevie Wonder?

Having committed the cardinal sin of leaving the main stage as Stevie ripped through “Signed Sealed Delivered,” I guess I was setting myself up for a repellant EDM experience. Seriously, how could a brostep-practitioner (let alone a DJ) compete with a 14-piece band, diving into one of the greatest back-catalogues in pop history? However, as I approached the Twin Peaks stage, and the barrage of twisted noise and splintered video-projections came into focus, I found myself not just underwhelmed, but vaguely, viscerally offended as well.

As Skrillex’s formulaic dynamics ran their course (laborious, heavy-handed tension, building up to the inevitable “beat drop”), and the rigidly brimmed bro-hats in the audience bobbed up and down with militaristic synchronization, it dawned on me: the guy’s music is doomed by a perfect storm of chaos and joylessness. Say what you will about Metallica’s brand of contrived assault: their set was fun; Skrillex’s audience was enraptured, alright, but in a much more fascistic sense. Let’s just say that the image of Apple’s famous 1984 superbowl ad was a difficult one to shake.


I’d try to describe the Skrillex aesthetic, but is there anything that hasn’t already been said? Yes, there were lots of “womp-womps,” crashy noises, and syncopated Michael Bay sound effects piled atop the simplistic chord progressions. Factor in the predictable buildups and payoffs, and the seizure-inducing visuals, and you have a concertgoing experience with all the warmth and charm of a monster truck rally. Which isn’t to say that noise and chaos can’t be used compellingly. Hype Williams, Death Grips, and Black Dice are all capable of wringing anarchic perversity from their shards of noise, without sacrificing any sense of joy or wonderment.

Okay: I’ll concede that Skrillex’s music possesses an experimental edge. Also, it’s somewhat refreshing to see Middle America being turned on to the possibilities of dissonance in music. But, whereas even a quasi-countercultural figure like Trent Reznor would look out of place in front of a Bud Light logo, Skrillex looks perfectly at home. Unlike true boundary-pushers like Throbbing Gristle, Skrillex’s product is the dream-material of hair-gelling Viacom executives: an endlessly commodifiable brand of pseudo-punk rebellion, perfectly calibrated to sell energy drinks, college football, and the military-industrial complex, all while the bro-hats nod away.

After 10 minutes of Skrillex’s sonic cheese-grating, I was more than ready to head back into Stevie’s sunny embrace. As I heard the clavinet riff from “Superstition” fade in gradually on the walk over, I knew I had made the right decision. Maneuvering through the main stage crowd to make my way towards the action, the mood reversed completely, as Stevie made up for Skrillex’s joy-deficit, and then some. With three drummers, a brass section, an army of keyboardists and guitarists, and a few beautiful backup singers in tow, the pop master sported the swagger of 100 Skrillexes, without any of the gnarled, meatheaded machismo.

Therein lies the genius of Stevie Wonder: his ability to radiate joy, groove relentlessly, and even get political, with stunning cohesiveness. Just because “Higher Ground” and “Living for the City” possess sober lyrical content doesn’t mean you can’t dance your ass off to them. Elsewhere, “Sir Duke,” “I Wish,” and “Happy Birthday,” had the diverse crowd in a frenzy, dancing and singing along to some of the most infectious choruses ever written.


After initially taking the stage, armed with a Keytar to cover Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is,” Stevie jumped restlessly between a handful of instruments, displaying his virtuosity on the clavinet, piano, harmonica, and lap steel guitar. It was a welcome reminder (and a great introduction, for the uninitiated) of Stevie’s extraordinary musical talent; after all, he’s the visionary who recorded Talking Book (1972) completely on his own, drums and all.

Shuffling through a wide range of covers (Smokey Robinson’s “My Girl,” The Beatles’ “She Loves You,” and most memorably, Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel), as well as a hit parade of original material, Stevie’s set was an exuberant, poignant trip through a lifetime of pop brilliance. Young and old, black and white, no one could resist Stevie’s charm. Whereas Skrillex was signed on to appease a fixed set of demographics, Stevie came to play for everyone.

Hey SF, RZA is coming


The Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA, and his highly influential production sound, are much too easily taken for granted. You’ve got his Minnie-Ripperton-on-helium tape speeding methods, to which Kanye will forever be indebted; the filthy, resinous 36 Chambers aesthetic that’s informed everyone from MF Doom to Portishead; his prophetic, narrative skits that have irreversibly shaped the dynamics of the hip-hop album.

Even after 20 years in the biz, the Staten Island icon and famed kung-fu fetishist continues to shepherd the hip-hop form in bold, new directions. Expect RZA to reinforce his prestige when he takes the Mezzanine stage this Thursday, with a full live band in tow.


It’s worth noting that, despite his prolificacy, RZA has just one proper solo record under his belt. This makes the prospect of a live show all the more compelling, as his discography offers a seemingly endless diversity of material to cherrypick from. Of course, there’s the Wu-Tang archive, and his productions for colleagues like Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, and Method Man; his recordings under the Bobby Digital moniker; his wide-ranging collaborative efforts, including work with Nas and System of a Down; his kung-fu-centric soundtrack contributions for the likes of Quentin Tarantino (with whom he also worked on his own upcoming film, The Man With The Iron Fist, directed by RZA and co-written by RZA and Eli Roth) and Jim Jarmusch.


Adding to the mystique, is the relative lack of publicity surrounding the lineup of RZA’s band, and its plans to approach his almost entirely electronic production sound. How will a live drummer approximate the precarious, lo-fi thud of his synthetic beats? How will the melodies and samples be replicated, and on what instrumentation? And, perhaps most intriguingly of all, what effect will live, human interplay have on the loop-based foundations of his recorded output? The addition of a live band to RZA’s domain raises an abundance of tantalizingly unanswerable questions. For those fascinated by musicians pushing themselves into exploratory situations, this live appearance ought to be nothing short of essential.

9pm, $25 advance
444 Jessie, SF
(415) 625-8880

Inspired pairing: Woods and Peaking Lights at Great American Music Hall


“Man, their songs just went on forever,” a fellow in a Velvet Underground shirt exclaimed with mild frustration, as electronic-dub outfit Peaking Lights closed their hour-long set. Similarly to Steve Reich, Neu!, or (ironically, in this case) the VU, the Madison, Wis. duo is quite polarizing in its fixation on extreme repetition. Some find it tedious; others are hypnotized and transported. However, there’s no denying that Peaking Lights’ appeal stems from their disregard for compromise.

Warming up the Great American Music Hall stage for Brooklyn lo-fi folk-rock ensemble Woods, Peaking Lights rounded out the first half of an unusually diverse and compelling double-bill. Whereas a one-two punch of rock bands can impart a distracting sense of competition and redundancy, the decision to pair an acoustic-electric band with an electronic duo was a shrewd one, giving the audience a duality of musical methods to chew on.

Given the current oversupply of disengaged laptop sets, in which musician/producer/DJs plug away mysteriously at their boxes of switches and lights like the Mayor of Oz, Peaking Lights made an impression with their refreshingly old-school approach to electronics. Aaron Coyes’ presence was especially captivating, as he engaged himself in an observable process: loading and unloading tape decks with source material, and manipulating the outgoing sound manually, with the use of knobs and sliders.

During heavily dubby tracks, like “Lo Hi” from their third full-length, Lucifer, released this past June, Coyes channeled the radical techniques of King Tubby and Lee “Scratch” Perry, laying a groundwork of seemingly bottomless bass tones, and cutting through the rumble with sharp, percussive attacks, densely affected by an arsenal of phasers and echoes. His Jamaican-soundsystem-circa-1970 strategy was fascinating to watch, particularly for those with an appreciation for dub reggae and its technological context.

Indra Dunis, the other half of Peaking Lights, imparted a welcome contrast to Coyes’ experimental tendencies, supplying mantric vocals, tapping out infectious keyboard melodies, and taking breaks to shake maracas and dance along to Coyes’ layered grooves.

Whether they qualify as a pop outfit with an experimental bent, or a niche act with populist impulses, this fusion between the familiar and the esoteric is ultimately the source of Peaking Lights’ success. Coyes’ restless experimentation and Dunis’ pop approachability complemented each other beautifully, so it makes perfect sense that they are, in fact, a married couple.

Considering the heady ruthlessness of Peaking Lights’ set, Woods were given a tough act to follow. Often pigeonholed as a pastoral folk act, the four-piece seemed intent on debunking the Pitchforks of the world who dare synopsize their act with single-sentence quips. Resembling Neil Young in their ability to transition seamlessly between low-key, backwoods, campfire anthems and extended, psychedelic jams, Woods showcased their versatility with great conviction, adapting their tunes to the stage with impressive muscle.

Previewing material from the forthcoming album Bend Beyond, Woods were most captivating during their marathon electric-guitar freakouts. At their most energetic, these jams recalled the Flaming Lips’ Embryonic (2009) in their fuzzy, pummeling badassery, eliciting a primitive, visceral response.

The quieter, low-key material, however, suffered from an unshakable sense of been-here-before-ness. Although perfectly serviceable, Woods’ slower numbers were rendered inconsequential by the immediacy of their extended epics, and the high standard set by Peaking Lights’ performance. Given the sheer amount of middling pop music clogging the market right now, it takes a really good song to penetrate our information-age attention spans; some of Woods’ material simply failed to pass that test.

Bandleader Jeremy Earl’s voice also left something to be desired, at times hovering frustratingly between a modal register and a falsetto, without really qualifying as either. Vocals aside, though, Woods’ interplay was smooth and purposeful, with their standard lineup of bass, drums, and guitars accentuated by G. Lucas Crane’s electronic treatments and Jarvis Taveniere’s mandolin strumming.

While Peaking Lights’ novelty and innovation gave them a slight edge over Woods’ more conventional approach, the pairing was inspired, and mutually beneficial for both acts. Woods provided an ideally poppy antidote to Peaking Lights’ experimentation, while Peaking Lights’ avant-garde impulses were emboldened by Woods’ straightforwardness. The music world could use more double-billings as smartly put together as this one.

Underworld’s dynamic opening ceremony soundtrack


Much has been made of London’s opening ceremony, and director Danny Boyle’s cheeky rejection of Beijing’s rigidly coordinated, assembly-line approach. (Seriously, will Queen Elizabeth and James Bond ever share the screen again?) Completely overlooked, however, was the dynamic, propulsive soundtrack, curated by Underworld: the unsung heroes of British electronic music.

The collaboration was a revelation upon its announcement late last year; Underworld’s big moment arrived in 1996, when its anthemic “Born Slippy” was featured prominently in Trainspotting, Boyle’s directorial breakthrough. Providing a driving undercurrent to the action, as well as a lush, ambient backdrop, the track complemented Boyle’s vision beautifully, making a lasting impression on audiences worldwide as it established Underworld’s deeply filmic approach to its craft.

While the group, comprised of Karl Hyde, Rick Smith, and Darren Emerson (until he left the group in 1999, in favor of the DJ circuit) hasn’t exactly landed another gig to rival its Trainspotting moment, it has developed its sound considerably over the past 15 years, from the moody, yet diversely paced, Second Toughest in the Infants (1996), to the clean, shiny Detroit techno-inspired Beaucoup Fish (1999), to the post-Emerson steeliness of A Hundred Days Off (2002) and Oblivion With Bells (2007), to, most recently, the high-gloss raver anthems of Barking (2010).


Underworld put its back catalogue to great use during the opening ceremony, most notably during the long-established Parade of Nations. The Olympic teams marched energetically to uptempo tracks, such as “Dark Train,” “Dirty Epic,” and “Rez,” all of which lent a thumping force to the proceedings; Underworld’s generously layered synths highlighted the electricity in the air.

It makes perfect sense that ambient-music guru Brian Eno collaborated frequently with Hyde over the past few years, given Underworld’s emphasis on muted atmosphere, a rarity among dance-music practitioners. The Parade of Nations benefited greatly from this tone, which a more standard outfit like Chemical Brothers or the Crystal Method simply couldn’t have imparted. Underworld’s music packs a subtle emotional punch that most of its competition cannot equal.

The biggest draw for Underworld fans was the introduction of two new, extended tracks, produced especially for the ceremony’s creative segment. At 17 minutes, “And I Will Kiss” provided the backdrop for a shrewdly choreographed performance-art piece, chronicling Britain’s historic transition from pastoral wonderland to industrial superpower.

Recalling Peter Gabriel’s similarly high-concept OVO: The Millennium Show, held in London 12 years ago, the spectacle combined elaborate set-design and an extensive cast with a loud and pulsating, yet moody and subdued soundtrack. Industrialization represented a sense of forward progress, as well as a loss of innocence, for the British people, and Underworld’s musical contribution aptly reflected this emotional complexity.

The second original piece, “Caliban’s Dream,” filled the arena as a makeshift foundry was rolled onstage, casting the five rings that make up the iconic Olympic logo. Less successful than the other new composition, this track buckled under its own weight, incorporating electronics, orchestral elements, a Lion King-esque choir, and superfluous opera singing, with the hamfistedness of Yanni at the Acropolis. This misstep was understandable, given the sheer scale of Olympic opening ceremonies. However, Underworld thrives on nuance, and by that count, it missed the mark.


Original material aside, Hyde and Smith curated the soundtrack wisely, showcasing Britain’s musical exports in a universally approachable manner. An eclectic range of live performances included electronic composer Mike Oldfield, percussion virtuoso Evelyn Glennie, hip-hop wunderkind Dizzee Rascal, onetime “next-Oasis” Arctic Monkeys with a surprisingly inoffensive cover of “Come Together,” and of course, Sir Paul, himself.

Recorded material was also well chosen, particularly David Bowie’s “Heroes,” which played triumphantly as the British Olympic team marched out to the adoring home crowd. Lesser known artists, like rapper Wretch 32 and experimental duo Fuck Buttons, were thrown in for good measure, and “Eclipse,” the finale from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, closed the ceremony with a bang.

Hyde and Smith churn out first-rate background music, and when Boyle handed them the keys to the opening ceremony, they were given the opportunity of a lifetime. Sure, NBC’s commentators, Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira, did American viewers a disservice by talking mindlessly over all four hours. In the end, though, Underworld’s soundtrack tinted the ceremony perfectly, framing soft, ambient impulses with an incessant rhythmic drive, while never distracting from the spectacle at the center. Bloody good work.

Shearwater descends on Bottom of the Hill


Back in 2008, someone at a Shearwater show in Chicago posted a shaky video to YouTube, in which the Austin-based ensemble covered Talk Talk’s “The Rainbow,” the ambitiously panoramic opening track from the seminal Spirit of Eden (1988).

Not only did the 10-minute clip showcase a band masterfully replicating a piece of music, previously determined by its creator to be unplayable in a live setting; it demonstrated just how far Shearwater has come since its beginnings in 2001 as a quiet, low-key spinoff of alt-country institution Okkervil River.

The band’s breakthrough effort, Rook (2008), raised the stakes considerably, treating the spacious, naturalistic folk-rock of their earlier output with a loosely psychedelic propulsion (somewhere in between Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” and Neil Young’s “Down By the River”) and a significant expansion of their dynamic range.

Fast-forward to 2012, and the release of Animal Joy: Shearwater’s most unrelentingly loud/quiet/loud statement to date. Last Tuesday, frontman Jonathan Meiburg, and his current, five-piece lineup of supporting players, stopped by Bottom of the Hill in support of their seventh full-length, and first release on Sub Pop.

After two competent, but ultimately dispensable, opening sets from Seattle folk revivalists Gold Leaves, and Australian psych-popsters Husky, Shearwater took the stage authoritatively, beginning with “The Snow Leopard” – the dramatic, erratic climax from Rook.


Undeniably one of the highlights of the evening, it neatly encapsulated Meiburg’s thorough understanding of tension and release, its eerily quiet piano intro crashing into an explosive, beautifully cathartic jam, complete with thunderous drums and crunchy guitar stabs. Did the band shoot their collective wad early on? Arguably. But, what a first impression.

Another outstanding moment came halfway through the show, with “Insolence”, the similarly complex centerpiece from Animal Joy. Shifting between ruminative ballad-territory, and forceful, post-rock aggression, it exemplified Shearwater’s greatest asset: shapeshifting mini-epics whose loud and quiet sections feed symbiotically off one another.

Both “The Snow Leopard” and “Insolence” played to the strengths of Meiburg’s voice, which is a dramatic, versatile instrument, with the soft quiver of Aaron Neville or Roy Orbison, but the ability to pounce like Jeff Buckley at his most confrontational. However, the quieter songs left Meiburg’s vocals longing for the musical backbone they need to truly shine.

Therein lies Shearwater’s greatest fault; about half the time, the vocals are rendered over-theatrical by the the band’s incapacity to keep them in check. So, either the music needed beefing up, or the vocals required a dose of restraint, but something about the status quo certainly felt off.

Meiburg’s facial expressions were compelling, though, in their Jim Varney-esque elasticity. His eyes and mouth opened ferociously wide during more expressive moments, emoting with a “call-the-exorcist” level of wildness.

After a 90-minute set, Meiburg returned to the stage for an encore, which, at some point, crossed the line between “generous” and “overlong.” About half the bearded, bespectacled, plaid-wearing crowd filtered out, as Meiburg shared solo material, paid an a capella tribute to Scott Walker, and invited the band back onstage to close with a cover of REM’s “These Days.”

Though not exactly a hostage situation, one couldn’t help but long to give Meiburg the age-old “less is more” lecture. Still, he looked happy and engaged, so it feels a bit unfair to fault him for going overboard out of the goodness of his heart.

Even a decade into their career, Shearwater keeps searching, and refining their sound. Certain elements pale in comparison to others, as evidenced by their inconsistent appearance last Tuesday, but the stronger moments hint at a project with promising shelf life, and massive potential. Give them another ten years, they might bestow us with their Spirit of Eden moment.

Full-flavored beer talk with Russian River Brewing Co.


Over the past 30 years, California microbrew has conquered niche markets and infiltrated the mainstream in its evolution from “social lubricant” to “serious, artisanal product.” Arguably, no individual is more responsible for this spirit of innovation than Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing Company, based in Santa Rosa.

Acclaimed for his generously hoppy beers, which possess a cult following of Trekkie-like fervor, Cilurzo is credited with inventing the double IPA early in his career in San Diego; and Russian River’s elusive, seasonally released Pliny the Younger was recently determined, by popular vote, to be the best beer in the world.

However, Cilurzo’s mavericky side is perhaps best reflected in his sour ales: a highly specialized range of Belgian-derived brews, revered in beer-geek circles for their complexity. Aged in wine barrels for years at a time, with the addition of fruit like sour cherries and currants, and often subjected to the risky practice of spontaneous fermentation, sours are as temperamental as they are inefficient in respect to time, cost-effectiveness, and space preservation. Often called “wild ales,” these beers require a knowledgeable, experienced brewer to tame them.

I spoke with Cilurzo over the phone recently about his approach to sour beers, his brand’s esteemed reputation, some recent collaborations with Sierra Nevada and Toronado, and his favorite hops, as well as the various brews gracing his fridge at home. Beer lovers, and novices alike, read on:

SFBG You make a pretty diverse lineup of beers. Is there anything that your beers have in common? Anything that ties them all together?

Vinnie Cilurzo They’re all, for the most part, full-flavored beers. Obviously, we have a pretty eclectic lineup, from our super-hoppy beers [Pliny the Elder; Blind Pig IPA], to the Belgian beers [Damnation; Sanctification], to barrel-aged beers [Supplication; Beatification]. And then we make a lot of session-type beers at the pub. I’m not sure there’s anything that ties them together, other than from a quality standpoint, you know, being Russian River. But we like having the diversity at the brewpub for sure, and the brewpub is hands-down the main part of our operation.


SFBG “Sour” is a pretty popular umbrella term for a whole range of beers. Do you accept that term? Reject that term? How do you classify them?

VC I’m fine if someone wants to call them sour, or barrel-aged, or whatever they want to call them. I think, for the most part, the beer connoisseurs know what they are. You know, on occasion, a non-beer-enthusiast will buy a bottle and be surprised when they find it is sour in flavor. It doesn’t say it on the front of the label, but we don’t make a huge deal out of it, either way. Barrel-aged funky beers… is the term we tend to go with, typically [laughs].

SFBG Looking at opposite ends of the spectrum, what do you think is a good barrel-aged beer to start out with, for someone who’s looking to jump in? What’s a good example of one that goes all the way, and just does something radical?

VC We have three main barrel-aged beers, and then the fourth being Sanctification, which is the 100% brett-fermented, and we add bacteria to it. The Sanctification is probably the mildest. We purposefully make it less sour and less tart, so that, maybe a person that’s new to the funky beers can maybe taste one of these, as sort of an entry level funky, barrel-aged beer…

On the most extreme side, I would definitely go with Consecration, which is 10% alcohol, and we age it in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. There’s currants added to the barrels, so that provides sugar for the secondary fermentation. That’s definitely got the biggest, boldest flavors, not only from the beer part of it, but the wine contribution, and the barrel contribution, and although it’s not over-the-top sour, there’s just a lot of big, bold, complex flavors there.

SFBG Also, Beatification. That’s the only one that’s completely spontaneously fermented, right?

VC Yeah, it is. That, too, could also be considered, probably on the pretty extreme side of the funky beers, in that we do 100% spontaneous fermentation… In Belgium, a spontaneous beer would originally be called a Lambic, but that’s a protected term that can only be used in Belgium. We obviously respect our friends in Belgium making lambic, so we’ve come up with this kind of playful term called “Sonambic” (a contraction between Sonoma and Lambic.)

So, we have multiple batches of Sonambic aging all the time, and then we take different batches, blending them together to make Beatification. Beatification is, typically, a once-a-year release.

SFBG Since this beer’s picking up these wild yeasts, do you think they have a specific flavor profile that you would not get if you were aging these beers in Belgium, or somewhere else?

VC No, I think they’re wild yeasts that are inherent to brewing these types of beers, in general. So, if you know how to manipulate your environment, you can probably get these types of flavors to come through. But, it certainly takes time.

SFBG You mentioned “manipulating your environment.” These sours, you’ve been making them for a while. Do you feel like you’ve kind of gotten the variables down, and know how to control it, pretty much every step of the way?

VC We have a good handle on it, but the beer is always in control. The time when you start feeling that you know what you’re doing, the yeast and the bacteria will throw a curveball at you, that’s for sure. So, the beer really does tell you when it’s ready. It’s weather dependent; it’s temperature dependent; it’s seasonally dependent; it’s what was in the barrel before; it’s how long you clean the barrel. For the spontaneous beers, specifically, it’s how long we leave the wort in the koelship, which is the open fermenter. There’s so many variables. So, you have to be very, very pliable, and be able to go with the flow, if you will.


SFBG Moving on, there’s the Toronado 25th Anniversary collaboration

VC Yeah, we’ve got that in the bottle now. Four-and-a-half years ago, we made Toronado’s 20th anniversary beer, [Toronado owner] Dave Keene liked it a lot and asked me if I’d do the 25th anniversary. We actually started it about a year ago, so by the time the Toronado 25th anniversary happens, which is Aug. 11, it’ll have been about a year-and-a-half project.

We started brewing them in the spring of 2011, and we just bottled it recently. It’s a disproportionate blend of the six beers… Dave and I made the blend ourselves, so he came up here one day a while back. We sat down and tasted through all the beers first, and created the base blend, started tweaking it here and there, and got it to a point where we were happy with it.

SFBG Are there any other San Francisco-centric collaborations going on? Any other collaborations with breweries, in general?

VC We do have a big one coming out, but it was actually brewed at Sierra Nevada, so it was a Russian River / Sierra Nevada collaboration… specifically between Brian Grossman [Sierra Nevada owner Ken Grossman’s son] and I. Brian and I are very close friends so, we wanted to do a beer together.

We didn’t want to do something that we both make already, so hoppy beers were out. Being that we do sour, barrel-aged beers, that was out. And, also, there was no way that Ken was going to allow bacteria at Sierra Nevada. But, they had never used brettanomyces before, and Brian thought his dad would be okay with that. So, I started working on a recipe on our pilot brewery here, and then Brian started working on his dad to get him to sign off on the project. Finally, Ken was okay with it.

We came up with an original recipe here at our brewery, on our little half-barrel pilot system, and then we handed that recipe off to Sierra Nevada, and they brewed it for several months, on their 10-barrel pilot brewery. Then, once we dialed the recipe in, there, and made a couple more tweaks to the recipe, it was ready to go. Earlier this year, January, we brewed it there in Chico on their 100-barrel system, and it got bottled mid-February. They start shipping it out late this month, to all their respective distributors throughout the country.

The beer is called Brux, which is short for bruxellensis: a strain of brettanomyces. You’ve got multiple strains of brett, and so we chose the bruxellensis strain as the one we wanted to use, as it had the best flavor profile. So, it’s bottle-conditioned with the brettanomyces, and that’s one of the flavor components, although there’s contributions from the main yeast, and all kinds of nice, beautiful, round flavors in the beer. I’m really excited about it. It’s probably one of my favorite beers I’ve ever brewed before.

SFBG Given all these American breweries innovating with Belgian beers, is there anything you’d like to see American beer culture pick up from Belgian beer culture?

VC Glassware, to me, is something where we could do a better job. That’s looking internally at ourselves, too. We could do a better job getting pubs and restaurants to use proper glassware, even for our own beers. It’s a little more difficult to do. But yeah, that is a part of the Belgian culture that I do absolutely love.

SFBG Is there a glass that you feel that your sours are particularly well served in?

VC If you’re at home drinking Belgians or sour, barrel-aged beers, I’d say: try a pint glass with half the beer, and put the other half in a wine glass, if you don’t have a stemmed, beer-type glass, and see if you can tell the difference. I think you can tell a big difference, particularly in aroma, and obviously some flavor, as well, by using a non-pint glass. A wine-type glass works a lot better.


SFBG Moving on to your hoppier beers… Are there any hops in particular that you feel you have an affinity for?

VC Simcoe would be the main hop. If not the first, we were one of the first breweries in America to use Simcoe, back in the late ‘90s when it came out originally. That is kind of the predominant hop that you get in Pliny the Elder, [which] we’ve been making since 1999. I think I first messed around with Simcoe in ‘97 or ‘98 back when it was an experimental hop called YCR-014.

We originally designed the Pliny recipe around Simcoe, and we also use it in Pliny the Younger. A little bit goes into Blind Pig IPA. Then, we have this new beer called Row 2/Hill 56, which is a 100% Simcoe beer. The name Row 2/Hill 56 references the exact location of the very first ever Simcoe vine, up in Yakima, that was grown through the experimental program. So, it was in the second row, and the 56th hill into the hopyard.

It’s sort of a deconstructed pale ale. There’s only three farms in the world that grow Simcoe, and they’re all in Yakima Valley, so… we pelletize the hops separately, and process them separately, [adding] the hops to the brew kettle based on the farm, not just by the variety. Normally, when you’re doing a hop addition, you’re looking at it, saying, ‘I’m gonna add Cascade, or Simcoe, or whatever the recipe is.’ In this case, it’s all Simcoe and it’s farm specific.

We use a ton of other hops, too: CTZ, Amarillo, Chinook, Cascade, Centennial. In the Belgian beers, we use a lot of Styrian Golding, Sterling, Saaz, and Northern Brewer.

SFBG You’re basically credited with inventing the double IPA in San Diego, and it’s developed a lot since then. What do you think about that?

VC To be honest with you, it doesn’t really mean that much to me. If I was the first, then great. If not, then no big deal. It really is amazing, though, to see the amount of hops being used in the craft beer industry right now. I was at the Hop Growers’ Convention earlier this year, and there was a fact that was thrown out, that by the end of 2013, if craft beer grows at the same pace that it is now, craft brewers in general will be using the exact same amount of hops as all the big breweries in America, the big industrial breweries, making industrial lagers. So, it does go to show that we use a lot of hops, and we use them rather inefficiently, as Matt Reynoldson at Firestone Walker says. Anyways, it’s nice for people to recognize me, but it’s not the end-all by any means.

SFBG I read in a previous interview that Orval is your favorite beer.

VC Yeah, you can always find Orval, Duvel, and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in my fridge at home. Those are my three go-to beers at home. But, there’s some other great little Belgian breweries. There’s a little brewery in West Flanders called De Ranke that makes a beer called XX Bitter, that is a beautiful, hoppy Belgian beer. There’s a small startup brewery (well, they’ve been in business for several years now) in Brussels called De la Senne, and they make a beer called Taras Boulba, that’s just absolutely beautiful, as well.

SFBG Do you think Orval’s rubbed off on the way you make beer? Do you look to it for inspiration?

VC Well, Orval is a brett-finished beer, and until we’ve done this beer with Sierra Nevada, Brux, it was actually the first brett-finished beer we’ve really done on any kind of scale. Although we have made one or two at the pub over the years, they were single, one-off batches, so, we use brettanomyces at Russian River as just a part, just one component of the barrel-aged beers, where Orval is a brett-finished beer. It’s refermented in the bottle with brett, so I would say that Brux is more Orval-esque than anything Russian River has ever done, because we are souring our beers, and brettanomyces doesn’t make the acidity; bacteria makes the acidity in the barrel-aged funky beers. Brett just contributes a funky, earthy flavor and characteristic.

Although I do plan to put more of those style beers out, and I really love that style of beer, it’s actually not something we’ve done a lot of. When we made Brux with Sierra Nevada, it was as much a learning curve for me as it was for Sierra Nevada, who had never used brett before.

SFBG Are there any American brewers who you feel are approaching beer from a similar angle that you are? Or, just some that you feel are doing a really good job?

VC Top of the list is Sierra Nevada. I love what they do. Their commitment to quality is like no one else, and it was really neat to kind of be a part of a process there, with a beer like Brux. And, although they don’t do funky beers, they are my everyday, go-to beer at home. They’re doing a tremendous job, but yeah, there’s lots of breweries.

Although you don’t get it here in California, I love what Brooklyn Brewery is doing. They’re doing some phenomenal Belgian inspired beers. Particularly, they’ve got a beer called Sorachi Ace which is a saison. Just a really beautiful beer. Allagash are some of my favorite Belgians. There’s a little brewery down in Central Valley: Kern River Brewing. They make a really good IPA. The list is too long. I mean, there’s just so much good beer being made in the US right now.

Probably, in the big picture, the US is leading the way in innovation now for beer, whereas in the past, you probably would have said Belgium, or Germany, or something like that. But really, it probably is American breweries doing it. All these little breweries coming up with all these crazy, wacky beer recipes, you know?

Like an Eric Andre in a china shop


What’s to be anticipated when Adult Swim’s most degenerate program hits the road? On Monday night, a sold-out crowd filled the Rickshaw Stop, ready for just about anything short of a Mitt Romney endorsement.

A love letter to the Reddit-surfing, bong-ripping, Flying Lotus-bumping demographic, The Eric Andre Show stampedes through its weekly, 15-minute time-slot with reckless abandon and utter perversity, hanging onto its “talk-show” descriptor by a single Funyun. If Pete & Pete, Hype Williams, and Gary Busey invested in a sleazy public-access channel, transmitted from the bowels of Suave Ben’s house in Blue Velvet, The Eric Andre Show would be its flagship broadcast.

MF Doom’s Special Herbs played over the soundsystem as the doors opened, aptly reflecting the intoxicated, Bohemian crowd shuffling in. The show kicked off with three stand-up routines, starting with co-host and Andre-sidekick Hannibal Buress, followed by local comics Stroy Moyd and Chris Garcia.

Buress was by far the funniest, transitioning from scrambled eggs to Eddie Griffin without the slightest thread of contrivance. Moyd’s set, while mostly successful, was hindered by a sense of forced confrontation, while Garcia uncannily recalled every schtick-dependent, guitar-equipped comedian you’ve ever seen on Comedy Central at 1am.

After a short break, Andre stormed the stage impolitely and unapologetically, ketchup and mustard bottles in hand, dousing the feverish crowd in red and yellow corn-syrup sludge, with GWAR-like contempt for social etiquette. After plopping down behind his big-kahuna desk, Andre invited Buress on stage, trading quips like Letterman and Paul Shaffer all fucked up on Ween’s Scotchgard.

Despite its chaotic pretense, the show barreled forward with an astute sense of rhythm and timing, flipping between stand-up bits, video clips, live music from the delightfully inept house band, and fake celebrity appearances, in a fast-paced spectacle, tailor-made for the goldfish-like attention spans of Adult Swim’s viewership.

The audience was treated to guest appearances from Tatyana Ali (Will Smith’s little cousin from Fresh Prince, remember?) and a very fake Russell Brand. Counterfeit TV commercials were shown, the most memorable of which involved Andre, dressed as Ronald McDonald, slamming whiskey and sobbing uncontrollably. In the most gut-bustingly hilarious moment of the night, a clown of the childrens’-parties variety took the stage, fashioning balloon animals with Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose” playing seductively in the background.

After the unrestrained, brain-frying energy of Andre’s set, acclaimed Oakland hip-hop duo Main Attrakionz cooled things down beautifully with their balance between rugged, hard-boiled lyricism and luminous, electronic soundscapes. Taking the stage with great authority, Squadda B and Mondre delivered a steadily compelling set that, at a short-and-sweet 30 minutes, never overstayed its welcome.

Sauntering back onto Fell Street, with mustard-caked belongings, the audience was visibly gratified, and for good reason. Given the scarcity of live events that merge stand-up comedy, live hip-hop, and whatever the hell Eric Andre does, Monday night’s show was as satisfyingly complete as it was totally unpredictable.

Are these the 10 best albums of the year so far?


What vibrant musical times we’re living in! The year is halfway done, and we’re already up to our neck in more great albums than we know what to do with. Naturally, a list of 10 required a few sacrifices (apologies, in particular, to Fiona Apple, Burial, and Spiritualized), but here you have it: a handful of the most interesting, most forward-thinking, most compulsively listenable records of 2012 so far.

10. Mount Eerie: Clear Moon (P.W. Elverum & Sun)

Few musicians evoke the dank, misty Pacific Northwest as vividly as indie-rock auteur Phil Elverum. Consolidating his naturalistic folk, quasi-metal, and Twin Peaks-ambient impulses, Clear Moon is Elverum’s most succinct, eloquent statement since his days as the Microphones.

9. Daughn Gibson: All Hell (White Denim)

Just when you thought nobody was interested in kicking country music’s ass into the 21st century, along comes Daughn Gibson. Filtering lovelorn trucker ballads through James Blake’s glitch machine, with Gibson’s hearty baritone along for the ride, All Hell is one of the most quietly subversive albums in recent memory.

8. Julia Holter: Ekstasis (RVNG)

There’s a rhyme and reason to Julia Holter’s musical language, but it’s not linear. Her songs flow leisurely from one idea to the next, unraveling like a cloud of smoke instead of progressing like a staircase. Folding elements of indie-pop, classical minimalism, free jazz, and Indian raga into her postmodernist stew, Ekstasis is an impressive balancing act that never buckles under its own conceptual weight.

7. Actress: RIP (Honest Jons)

Fragmented, yet weirdly cohesive, RIP is British producer Actress’ most developed statement yet. Recalling Flying Lotus’ freewheeling space crusades, Autechre’s twitchy electronics, and Hype Williams’ anarchic fuzz, each of RIP’s 15 pocket symphonies create their own little world: some of them floaty and meandering, others driven and intent, all of them captivating in their balance between the familiar and the esoteric.

6. Laurel Halo: Quarantine (Hyperdub)

Much like Oneohtrix Point Never’s Replica (2011), Quarantine is ideal soundtrack material for those late-night, marathon web-surfing sessions that seem to transcend time and space. Halo’s cold, glassy electronics are anchored by dry, straightforward vocals on an album that occupies a mysterious void between vocal pop and ambient electronica.

5. Lone: Galaxy Garden (R&S)

This is the Lone album we’ve been waiting for. The British laptop producer’s past efforts, while exquisitely lush, were inhibited by a sense of hollow simplicity; Galaxy Garden, his danciest effort yet, shows improvement on nearly every front, from generously layered percussion, to a nuanced, bittersweet take on melody and harmony. A gorgeous fulfillment of Lone’s hedonistic vision.

4. Chassol: X-Pianos (Tricatel)

Well, this is unusual: a sprawling, two-hour debut album from a French orchestra conductor who’s worked privately on his own compositions for decades. Harmonizing field recordings and spoken-word samples through a wide range of musical languages, from old-school classical to indie-pop-via-MIDI, X-Pianos isn’t a cohesive statement so much as a brilliant portfolio, waiting to be discovered, piece by piece.

3. THEESatisfaction: awE naturalE (Sub Pop)

Splitting the difference between progressive hip-hop and neo-soul, this Seattle duo’s breakthrough record zips through its 30-minute run-time with remarkable tenacity and economy. Bearing the exhilarating energy of J Dilla’s Donuts or Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah Pt. 2, and shrewd lyricism that effortlessly balances the political, the personal, and the cosmic, awE naturalE feels urgently, confrontationally NOW.

2. Zammuto: Zammuto (Temporary Residence)

Former Books member Nick Zammuto’s solo debut impresses with its vitality and strength of purpose. Despite the heightened emphasis on conventional songwriting this time around, Zammuto strikes that divine balance between bewildering sound-collage and pop approachability that made the Books such an endearing project in the first place.

1. Field Music: Plumb (Memphis Industries)

Sometimes, a really solid pop album wins out. Less a song-cycle than a series of hooks, Field Music’s latest is the work of a band with a hundred wonderful ideas up its sleeve, and only 35 minutes to communicate them. Channeling the impulsive energy of Abbey Road’s second half with proggy dexterity, Plumb cements this vastly underrated British outfit as one of the most visionary songwriting duos around.

THEESatisfaction communicates its boldly cosmic agenda at the Independent


Amid the reign of Kanye, it can be easy to overlook the humble beginnings of hip-hop: a populist genre designed to be executed with minimal resources. Seattle duo THEESatisfaction’s reverence for this history was on full display at the Independent last Friday night, as they “turned off the swag” to deliver a remarkably unadorned performance, in support of the acclaimed awE naturalE, released earlier this year. Two microphones and a MacBook were all Catherine Harris-White and Stasia Irons needed to communicate their boldly cosmic agenda.

Taking the stage in matching leopard-print, Stas and Cat opened with the frenetic, Billy Cobham-esque “naturalE”, before easing into an expertly paced set, indebted to countless strains of black vanguard music: the astral thrust of Sun Ra and George Clinton; the buttery neo-soul of Erykah Badu; the political integrity of Last Poets; the loop-based hypnosis of J Dilla.

Musicians this boldly enterprising are notorious for massaging their egos, but conversely, Stas and Cat turned in an endearingly casual performance, devoid of hipster posturing and showbiz schtick. Everything, down to the synchronized dance moves, was imparted with the laid-back spirit of two best friends (or, in Stas and Cat’s case, lovers) goofing off in their living room.

Despite the relaxed vibe, the duo’s stage presence was incredibly refined, starting with their beautifully interlocking vocal techniques. Cat’s jazz-based vocal inflections provided the perfect foil to Stas’ rap verses, like the splash of milk in a cup of tea. “Deeper” was a highlight in this sense; revolving mainly around Stas’ rapping, Cat added subtle ornamentation, echoing syllables and completing phrases to create a swirling, intoxicating tremolo effect.

In a pleasant surprise, “Deeper” ended with a newly written, a capella outro, before transitioning seamlessly into the grooving, yet subdued, “Needs.” While the (predominantly female) audience went wild, nothing could’ve prepared them for the hedonistic centerpiece of awE naturalE, “QueenS”. A much needed, diversionary moment on a record abound with blistering social criticism, it entitled Cat to her Donna Summer moment of the night. The crowd reacted ecstatically, singing along to her chants of, “sweat in your cardigan!” while doing exactly that.

The remainder of THEESatisfaction’s set balanced material from awE naturalE, with cuts from their self-released That’s Weird (2008) and Snow Motion (2009). Clocking in at roughly an hour, it left the audience mostly satisfied, craving just a little more: an ideal balance that’s rarely achieved.

The “laptop set,” much like a solo singer-songwriter performance, is a difficult art to master. It takes a compelling personality to keep things interesting in such a minimal environment. On Friday night, THEESatisfaction showed a total command of their craft, never allowing their austere presentation to overshadow the richness of their creative vision.

Glass on Glass: an extended interview with the composer


Few living composers can claim more influence over the landscape of modern classical music than Philip Glass. A glance at his expansive discography — comprised of symphonies, operas, ballets, film scores, and a broad range of collaborative efforts — reveals a restlessly creative artist, with little regard for categorization. Even after turning 75 earlier this year, Glass continues to work as prolifically as ever.

The latest installment in Glass’ storied career finds the composer joining forces with acclaimed singer-songwriter-harpist Joanna Newsom, for an exclusive, one-off performance Mon/25 to benefit Big Sur’s Henry Miller Memorial Library.

In a phone conversation with the Guardian last week, from his home in Manhattan, Glass detailed the evolution of his creative alliance with Newsom, his burning desire to work with Ornette Coleman and Wynton Marsalis, his likeness to Brian Eno, and his refusal to be labeled a “minimalist”, among a host of other topics.

Our interview was much too extensive for Wednesday’s feature to contain, so read on for more words of wisdom from Glass.


San Francisco Bay Guardian Are you working on any of your own material recently? Anything you can share with us, that you’re working on for your own purposes?

Philip Glass I finished an opera for Linz, Austria, based on a story about [Austrian novelist-playwright Peter Handke], and now I’m working on another opera, based on… well, that’s a Walt Disney. Besides that, I’m working with Godfrey Reggio on one of his new movies. He’s the one who made Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi. Besides that, I’m doing concerts. The one [in San Francisco] of course… and I have three in New York this week, and one in Chicago next weekend.

SFBG Solo piano performances?

PG They’re mostly ensemble concerts with my own group. There will be one in New York called the River to River Festival. That’s a group that’s been together for about 35 years or so, and we’re playing pieces that are retrospective of music from those years. Then, I will be doing some collaborative pieces. One concert I’m doing, I’m playing with Laurie Anderson. And I did one last night with Stephin Merritt. The concert in Chicago, which is next weekend, I’m doing with a wonderful violinist named Tim Fain [accompanying Glass and Newsom Mon/25], which is mostly chamber music of mine.

So, I tend to do a variety of things. It keeps everything very interesting for me. It means I’m always practicing and rehearsing [laughs], but it’s more fun to do that than to just play the same thing over and over again. I don’t do that very much.

SGBG Moving on to the show in San Francisco coming up: I spoke with [Magnus Toren, executive director of the Henry Miller Memorial Library] on the phone the other day, and said he’d heard that your rehearsals with Joanna Newsom and Tim Fain are going very well.

PG Yeah, we got along very well, and I’ve known Tim a long time. I knew Joanna from her records when we met for the first time. She spends a lot of time in New York. We met very recently, and we had two sessions here. We’re going to have another rehearsal out there.

What we’re doing, basically… it’s her music and my music. I’m playing one of her new songs, and then she and Tim are playing a number of songs together. Then, we’re playing some of my trios that I adapted for harp, piano, and violin. We’re also doing solo pieces. Violin, harp, and piano: it’s kind of a classic combination. They’re instruments that go very well together, and we found … she’s an excellent player, anyway, and a wonderful singer. But, we found that our music works very well together.

SFBG Are there any songs of [Newsom’s], or just elements of her music that you really connect to?

PG She has a unique way of approaching the harp. I’m not a harpist, so I can’t give you the technical details, but when you hear her play, she has her own style. The way that certain pianists have a certain way of playing the piano. You know, you hear them, you say, “Oh, that’s so-and-so.” You know right away who it is.

She has a bigger tonal range than harp players usually use, because she can change keys very easily, very rapidly. And so, that gives her a lot of flexibility in terms of the tonality. That’s the one thing that I noticed right away. She has a command of the whole range of the instrument, and she can adapt her voice to it very, very well.

SFBG In a recent interview, you said, “all the collaborations I’ve done, have been a way for me to put myself in a place where I haven’t been before.” Based on the time you’ve spent rehearsing with Joanna and Tim, where is this collaboration taking you, that you’ve never been before?

PG I’ve used the harp a lot in orchestral music, where it becomes part of the orchestra. It might not stand out that much. But now, with a harpist right in front of me, there were parts of the instrument that worked very well with parts of my music, and I was able to hear it. Although I knew the instrument, in terms of a large ensemble, I’ve never been in such an intimate relationship with it. It brings out a texture in the music I write, which I’m hearing almost for the first time.

SFBG Besides Newsom, are there any other new artists you’ve been listening to recently, or any currently working musicians who you admire, or take inspiration from?

PG I’m going back to working with a wonderful kora player named Foday Suso. He’s from the Gambia. We toured a lot in the late ’90s, and the early part of this decade, and we’re just trying to start touring again. We haven’t played in a few years. There will be a new percussion ensemble, and we’re going to be playing with them. But, we have concerts coming up in Seattle, and Mexico City, and actually one in Carmel.

I would guess, in terms of a new player, I think Joanna is the newest of the new, given the people I know. I just, last night, was doing a concert with, and played one piece with, Stephin Merritt. I liked playing with him. He’s a very good singer. Do you know his work?

SFBG Magnetic Fields, right?

PG Yeah, that’s right. So, he’s another person I’ve just worked with very recently, who I enjoyed working with.

SFBG So, you’re really known for your collaborations. You’ve done a lot of them. Is there any kind of consistent contribution that you feel you bring to collaborative projects?

PG One of the things that interests me the most is when I work with people who don’t have a background in Western music, as such. Wu Man, who is a wonderful pipa player (it’s like a Chinese mandolin, you could say), we’ve done work together. I’ve worked with Mark Atkins from Australia. He’s a didgeridoo player.

A percussion group from Brazil called Uakti. What I really like, is going outside of my home base. You know, my home base is basically central European art music, as it grew up in Europe and then took root in America. I find, when I’m playing with people from Africa, or Australia, or China, or Japan, or Korea, I find it very stimulating.

SFBG Are there any artists in particular who you’d love to collaborate with?

PG I did a very extensive piece with Leonard Cohen recently [The Book of Longing], and I liked that. I could go back to that collaboration again. But, it’s been four or five years since we did that piece. There are two people I’ve talked to, we’ve never had the time to do it: one is Ornette Coleman, and the other is Wynton Marsalis. We keep on talking about it, but you have to get in the same room long enough to do some work [laughs].

I’d love to go back and do some more pieces with Ravi Shankar, who is still alive, and still writing. I got to know his daughter, Anoushka. Wonderful sitar player. So, that’s a young person I would like to work with. But, she knows that. Ever since she was eight years old. She’s become a wonderful player, these days.

SFBG A few other questions about your music. You seem to reject the “minimalism” tag…

PG Well, here’s the problem: if you would like people to come to a concert of minimalism, and they come to the concert, you’re not going to hear it [laughs]. The reason I object to descriptions that are not going to be found [is that] instead of helping the audience, it creates a kind of obstacle.

The pieces I wrote in ’73, ’74, ’75, ’76: yeah, sure! But, I’m not playing any of those pieces in the concert in San Francisco. I can, and I have. I played Koyaanisqatsi with Godfrey Reggio’s film at the Hollywood Bowl last year. And, that’s close to that period. It was written in 1979. So, it wouldn’t be so outlandish to call it minimalist, but actually, the pieces I’m writing today … it’s misleading.

I don’t know what your situation is, but often, editors will try to find something to sum it up and make a headline of a piece: “Minimalist composer arrives with Joanna Newsom.” But, that’s not going to happen! [Laughs]. So, those are catchy lines, and they’re maybe good journalism, but they’re actually poor preparation.

Look: I’ve been writing music for 40 years. It’s not the same music. So, when people ask me about that, I say, “well, let’s talk about what the concert’s going to be.” Now, in this particular concert, I’m doing pieces with Joanna, and with Tim, that have been written in the last ten years. So, there’s no minimalism in it at all.

When people talk about [Einstein on the Beach]: of course. It resonates with reality. That was the heartland of minimalism in the mid-’70s, and Einstein was one of the apotheosis pieces of that time, that caught that spirit, caught that technique. But, we’re not doing Einstein. We will be doing Einstein at Berkeley, at the Zellerbach, in October.

SFBG Do you have a way, maybe a shorthand, to classify what you’re doing now?

PG You kind of brought it up, yourself. I work with musicians from many different areas, so I’ve become a collaborator. In a way, that informs more about what I do than almost anything else. I don’t care how I’m remembered, in a way, but how I might be remembered as someone who worked with a lot of different people, from Allen Ginsberg, to Twyla Tharp. [That’s the distinctive thing], and it’s definitely reflected in the form of the work.

SFBG A lot of people who were brought up on popular music, even jazz, see a certain exclusivity in classical music. But, looking at your body of work, in contrast, you’ve produced a wide range of work on commission, from operas…

PG Yeah, I got over that label right away! [Laughs].  I’m not even a new music composer anymore. I’m just a composer.

I mean, part of my agenda was to get out of the ghetto, get out of the new music ghetto, into a bigger musical world, where I could work with David Bowie, or Emmylou Harris, or Joanna Newsom. I could work with anybody, and it wouldn’t be a surprise. No one’s going to say “what is he doing now?” because I’ve done it so much that it’s more like, “there he goes again!” [laughs]

SFBG You’ve collaborated with Brian Eno in the past.

PG Yes, that was part of the collaboration with David Bowie, because during the days where they were doing pieces like Heroes and Low (I turned those into symphonies) Brian was a collaborator, for sure.

Also I had a record company at one time [Point Records], and we produced a new performance of Music for Airports [with Bang on a Can]. So, I’ve been involved with his music more than casually. I mean, I’ve actually been involved in recordings, and working on scores with his music. Very interesting composer. Very interesting guy.

SFBG Along those lines: he’s is another artist who’s really made a reputation on versatility, on working within a lot of musical settings. So, do you feel like you might have more in common with, perhaps, someone like Eno, than some of the more traditional figures in Western art music?

PG Well, I think that’s a very good point, because Eno crosses lines very casually, very easily. He wasn’t interested in being in any particular [genre]. I came up at Juilliard, and then [I had] a very high-end academic teacher in Paris called Nadia Boulanger. People who come from that background don’t usually do a lot.  [Pauses]. Trying to think. There was a great producer who produced some Michael Jackson [Quincy Jones]. He was a student of Nadia Boulanger as well. People turn up, but it’s not that common, to be truthful.

SFBG Another quotation from a recent interview, concerning your philosophy on music: you said, “music is a place, and is as real as Chicago, or Indianapolis, or the city you live in. It’s an absolute place, and once you know where that place is, you can go there.” Do you try to bring your audience, your listeners, to a certain place with your music?

PG Well, it’s not that I try to. I’m there already, so if they’re coming to my concerts, they’re going to be there, too. I think that it’s not so much the intention. It’s, more or less, a result of how I work, and who I am. If I tried to do it, I couldn’t do it any better than just, naturally doing what’s natural to me.

I think that’s not uncommon among musicians. We live in this world. It’s not a pastime. It amounts to, almost, an obsession for most musicians. They almost can’t think of anything else, to be truthful. They’re probably boring people to be around if you’re not a fellow musician [laughs]. But, the allure of the world of music is very powerful, and when you’re caught up in it, that’s what it is.

SFBG The place in music that you occupy: do you form any visual associations with it?

PG Not really, though in dreams, I can see things. The language of music is aural. It’s not about seeing; it’s about hearing.

SFBG Is there a piece, or even a section of a piece of yours, that you feel really succinctly encapsulates your approach to music, or what you strive for?

PG Einstein was the piece in the ’70s that captured that for me. But then, six years later, I was doing Koyaanisqatsi. Before Einstein, there was Music in Twelve Parts. Then, after that, there were three operas I did, to the work of Jean Cocteau. These are things that come up throughout my life. Certain pieces kind of sum up everything you’ve been thinking about, and you become aware of it afterwards. It’s hard to know it when it’s happening.

When I look back on certain pieces, [in the mid-’90s there was] Symphony No. 2, which, I didn’t think very much of when I wrote it. And the violin concertos from that time. They both became emblematic pieces of a certain kind.

I can see pieces that way: pieces that seem to sum up a period of search and work, and they seem to be the contestants of those ideas. And then, you move on to, then maybe three, four years of experimentation, of working through things. And then, another piece will pop up, that kind of sums it up. That happens to everybody.

A Benefit for Big Sur’s Henry Miller Memorial Library
Philip Glass and Joanna Newsom with Tim Fain
Mon/25, $62.50-$140
982 Market, SF
(415) 345-0900

Philip Glass and Joanna Newsom’s one-off concert to save the Henry Miller Memorial Library


He’s worked with the likes of Ravi Shankar, Leonard Cohen, Woody Allen, and Allen Ginsberg. Next week, one of the most influential living composers, Philip Glass, will add singer-songwriter-celebrated harpist Joanna Newsom to his list of collaborators.

On Monday, they will take the Warfield stage, along with violinist Tim Fain, in a one-off performance to benefit Big Sur’s Henry Miller Memorial Library.

A fixture of Northern California’s artistic heritage, the library will face closure this fall unless it manages to raise $150,000 to upgrade its water system to existing code. Glass and Newsom, both proponents of the library, have joined forces to secure its future.

Dedicated to the acclaimed author of Tropic of Cancer, who moved to Big Sur in 1944, the Henry Miller Memorial Library isn’t a library in the conventional sense.

The small wooden cabin, serving as a bookstore and community center, is nestled in a redwood grove on the Big Sur coastline, right beside a grassy area where concerts are held. The stage has drawn performers as varied as Laurie Anderson and Fleet Foxes, all of whom have found something special in its intimate, picturesque setting.

According to executive director Magnus Toren, the library “ties into what Big Sur represents for many people, which is… getting out of the hustle-bustle of regular life, oftentimes urban life. It’s a little bit of a sanctuary… As soon as you enter through the gate, you feel transported into a different kind of world.”


Glass, a Manhattanite, was inspired by the library’s setting when he gave his first concert there in 2008, describing it as, “a very, very idyllic place to perform.”

Yet, his attachment to California didn’t stop there. In 2011, Glass established the Days & Nights Festival, a two-week multimedia arts showcase held in Carmel Valley, which will present the upcoming benefit at the Warfield, along with folkYEAH!.

Given their respective backgrounds, the thought of a collaboration between Glass and Newsom has raised some eyebrows.

Credited alongside Steve Reich and Terry Riley for radically altering the direction of 20th century classical music, Glass is celebrated for his early minimalist works (Einstein on the Beach; Music in Twelve Parts) his film scores (Koyaanisqatsi), an immense collection of symphonies, operas, and ballets, and of course, his many collaborative projects.

Glass’ symphonic renditions of David Bowie’s Low and Heroes are a testament to his “maverick” status in the world of composition.

Newsom too has an individualist appeal. The native Californian has garnered a large following over the past decade for her innovative, highly percussive approach to the harp.

Noted for her eccentric, high-pitched voice (she can recall a young girl and an elderly woman in the same breath) and genre-bending songwriting methods, Newsom is esteemed as any singer-songwriter of her generation. “She has a command of the whole range of the [harp], and can adapt her voice to it very well,” Glass explained during a phone call last week.

On her most acclaimed album, Ys, (co-written with revered pop-collagist Van Dyke Parks) Newsom filtered extensive “songs” through a flowing set of dynamics, more befitting of a classical composition than an indie-folk record.

“Artistically, and musically, [the collaboration is] just so interesting,” Toren says. “They’re both iconoclastic. They’re both on the outer edge of certain areas in music. And so, I felt… there could be some synchronicity, some kind of chemistry. And, I think that’s what’s happening.”

Based on the success of several rehearsals in New York, Glass speaks enthusiastically about the collaboration, and the new places it has taken him as an artist. “[Although] I’ve used the harp a lot in orchestral music, I’ve never been in such an intimate relationship with it… It brings out a texture in the music I write… which I’m hearing, almost for the first time.”

Next Monday, the audience should expect solo material from Newsom, Glass, and Fain, in addition to collaborative renditions of Newsom’s songs and Glass’ trios.

When asked if he accepts the title of “classical composer”, Glass was quick to identify himself as a collaborator, above all.

“Part of my agenda,” he explained, “was to get out of the new-music ghetto, into a bigger musical world, where I could work with David Bowie, or Emmylou Harris, or Joanna Newsom… and it wouldn’t be a surprise. No one’s going to say ‘what is he doing now?’ because I’ve done it so much that it’s more like, ‘there he goes again!'”

A Benefit for Big Sur’s Henry Miller Memorial Library
Philip Glass and Joanna Newsom with Tim Fain
Mon/25, $62.50-$140
982 Market, SF
(415) 345-0900

Summer ale-manac



SUMMER DRINKS When Anchor Steam began its renaissance back in the early ‘80s, California went all in on the craft beer movement, and hasn’t looked back since. Three decades later, this renewed approach to brewing has not only radically pushed boundaries, but redefined the role of beer in our social fabric.

In the right setting, a quality brew can carry the dignity of a fine wine; but don’t let today’s rampant, beer-geek elitism fool you. It’s still a populist beverage if ever there was one. Looking for a refreshing, approachable ale or lager to nurse on a hot day in Dolores Park? Fear not: our nation’s maverick microbrewers have your back. So, before you go throwing those Coronas in the cooler, take a minute to reassess your options.

For six years now, SoMa’s City Beer Store has curated one of the most exhaustive selections of any bottle shop in town. Owner and buyer Craig Wathen had the following brews to recommend over the coming summer months, which you can snag either in bottles his store (1168 Folsom, SF. www.citybeerstore.com).



Alpha Session (Drake’s; San Leandro, CA)

Table Beer (Stillwater; Baltimore, MD)

Kent Lake Kölsch (Iron Springs; Fairfax, CA)

Highly drinkable and low in alcohol, these session beers are ideal for a leisurely day of drinking in the sunshine. An ideal replacement for macro-lagers like Bud and PBR, they pack a serious hop-punch, while avoiding the heavy malt backbone of most aggressively hopped beers. Stillwater’s Table Beer is fermented with a wild yeast strain, imparting the tart funkiness of Belgian sour ales, while Iron Springs’ Kent Lake Kölsch, a riff on the crisp, clean German style, was awarded the bronze medal for Best Blonde or Golden Ale at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival in Houston.



Gueuze Tilquin (Belgium)

Sanctification (Russian River; Santa Rosa, CA)

Berliner Weisse (High Water; Chico, CA)

Oro de Calabaza (Jolly Pumpkin; Dexter, MI)

Cited for their fruity tartness, barnyard funkiness, and vinegary acidity, Belgian-derived sour beers are among the most complex in the world. Fermented with wild yeasts, and oftentimes aged in barrels, these brews are risky and expensive to make, and usually produced in small quantities. While sours remain a niche product, you owe it to your palate to try one; the four listed above are relatively light-bodied, golden in color (as opposed to certain red and brown sours), and totally satisfying on a hot day.



Summer Yulesmith (Alesmith; San Diego, CA)

Simtra Triple IPA (Knee Deep; Lincoln, CA)

Constantly evolving and developing, aggressively hopped IPAs are the bread and butter of California craft brewing. Knee Deep’s Simtra Triple IPA is an extreme example of the style: taking inspiration from Russian River’s Pliny the Younger, it contains three times the hops of a standard IPA, resulting in an onslaught of bitterness. Alesmith’s Summer Yulesmith, a seasonal double-IPA, is similarly assertive; check out the fireworks on its label, and consider picking up a few bottles for your Fourth of July bash.



Campfire Stout (High Water; Chico, CA)

A heavy, roasty, dark beer can be a great indulgence on a summer night, and High Water Brewing offers a great novelty with its Campfire Stout: s’mores in beer form. Brewed with graham crackers, chocolate malt, and toasted marshmallow flavor. Before you begin that rousing round of “Kumbaya,” pop one of these.


Ales Unlimited 2398 Webster, SF. (www.alesunlimited.com)

Healthy Spirits 2299 15th St., SF. (www.healthy-spirits.blogspot.com)

La Trappe 800 Greenwich, SF. (www.latrappecafe.com)

Rosamunde Sausage Grill 2832 Mission, SF. (www.rosamundesausagegrill.com)

Toronado 547 Haight, SF. (www.toronado.com)

Suppenküche 525 Laguna, SF. (Hayes Valley, www.suppenkuche.com)

Beer Revolution 464 Third St., Oakl. (www.beer-revolution.com)


Snap Sounds: Carletta Sue Kay


Carletta Sue Kay
(Kitten Charmer)

Carletta Sue Kay is the female alter-ego of SF musician Randy Walker, and this identity shift pushes his art in some astonishing directions. (Walker’s previous band Mon Cousin Belge was notorious for its onstage performance art antics). Androgynous to its core, and loaded with overtones, his vocal delivery as Carletta Sue Kay can recall Annie Lennox, Gene Ween, and Joanna Newsom, all in the same breath. Normally, a voice this powerful is cultivated over years of recording, so it’s hard to believe that Incongruent is this former Amoeba employee’s debut full-length.

While the album certainly has its moments (namely the Pete Townshend homage “Joy Division”, and the floaty jazziness of “For the Birds”) Walker’s voice sets an impossibly high standard for the music to live up to. “Just Another Beautiful Boy” leans a bit heavily on rock-meets-showtunes schtick, and “Sloppy Kisses” flaunts its tweeness to the point of contrivance. But overall, Incongruent marks the emergence of an artist with serious potential. Equally commanding and vulnerable, Walker’s voice is sure to devastate anyone who gives it a chance.


Snap Sounds: Lone


Galaxy Garden

Matt Cutler’s back catalogue as Lone is the sonic equivalent of cotton candy: lush and ethereal to the point of cheapness, with little in the way of tension or dynamic range to keep it in check. While this aesthetic has yielded some (insanely) enjoyable results, one couldn’t help but long for something more substantial from the British beatmaker. Lone addresses that concern substantially on his fourth LP, Galaxy Garden, which finds him developing his brand of electronica like never before.

“As a Child” and “Cthulhu”, the two collaborations with NYC’s Machinedrum, indicate just how far Lone has come since 2010’s Emerald Fantasy Tracks. The sparse, offbeat, J Dilla-ish drum loops are swapped out for generously layered, and frantically syncopated percussion; the addition of vocals (namely on closing track “Spirals”) gives the songs an increased sense of propulsion; the bright, glossy synth melodies, while front-and-center as ever, are tinted with a sense of melancholy, lending them a satisfying weight.

While Lone’s previous work amounted to little more than pleasant fluff, Galaxy Garden gives the listener something to chew on.

Destroyer’s Dan Bejar on Orson Welles, desert island records, and more


Destroyer’s Dan Bejar is a songwriter’s songwriter, revered within indie rock circles for his dense, erratic lyric sheets, and sharp, confrontational vocal delivery. So, naturally, when he dove head-first into synth-laden yacht-rock on last year’s Kaputt, the Interwebs went abuzz.

The current Destroyer lineup is set to grace the Fillmore next Tuesday, for their second SF appearance since the album’s release. I interviewed Bejar about the upcoming tour over the phone last week, and unsurprisingly, he’s quite a talker. So much so, that my Destroyer feature in this week’s issue only scratched the surface.

For more juice on Kaputt, musings on Dean Martin and Orson Welles, and an impulsive list of desert island records, read on:

SFBG Your lyrics and your vocal delivery on Kaputt evoke this really strong sense of personality and point of view that I haven’t quite heard on another Destroyer record. I’ve read comparisons to Humphrey Bogart, to Bill Murray, to Dean Martin. Any way you cut it, there’s this sense of cool detachment at the center that makes people think of specific personalities. Were the lyrics on Kaputt, written and delivered with an established personality in mind?

Dan Bejar That’s kind of an interesting question. I think of them as kind of the most natural and least constructed lyrics and vocal turns that I’ve ever done. So, it’s funny that they evoke a strong sense of persona, because what I was trying to evoke was as much blankness as possible.

Just like, iterate the words, and try and hit the notes, and leave as much room for the music, you know? And, the sense of space was always very important. There’s probably half the word count that there is on any other Destroyer album.

It’s kinda like… that’s actually the exact opposite of how I picture it, but you never know when your intentions and when the reality of what you’re doing match up. I just tried to keep it real natural and simple. Maybe I am a Dean Martin character and I just don’t know it. Which would be cool, but you’d think someone would have told me by now.


SFBG Another big talking point in discussing your career is these transitions, namely Kaputt and Your Blues in 2004. Are there any artists, musicians, you take inspiration from when you’re making a stylistic shift with your career?

DB You mean, like people who have jumped around a lot, and not fallen on their face completely, doing it?

SFBG Right.

DB I don’t know… I don’t really think of it as that, that forest, or like me putting on different Halloween costumes. I just think the traditional rock-band model didn’t really fit, you know? I think, if you look at the career of most singer-songwriter types, any of them who’ve managed to last more than ten years, they’ve probably jumped around a fair bit.

I think, for the most part Kaputt‘s an exception, the writing and the singing is fairly consistent. If you scroll the credits of Destroyer records, all nine of them, you’ll probably find a lot of the same names, you know, but just doing different stuff, or in different formations.

I kind of like the jazz model, where everyone plays on different records, and it’s just more like, session based, as opposed to everyone having to dress up in leather jackets and act like a gang. Most of my inspiration comes from Miles Davis, on a daily basis, anyway.

SFBG There’s a rhythm and a density to your lyrics, that people compare to… Bob Dylan’s thrown around a lot, Joni Mitchell sometimes. But, beyond songwriters, are there any authors, or actors, or public figures, whose patterns of speech and word choice you take inspiration from in your work?

DB Beyond authors?

SFBG Authors included.

DB Oh, authors included. Just beyond songwriters, yeah. There’s too many to choose from. That was the entire project of Destroyer, from the first record up until Kaputt, where the project kind of shifted to become, like I said before, like a singer, and not a chest with poetry.

But, before then, the entire thing was to try and insert words that you would find from outside of a typical rock song, into a typical rock song. That was, kind of, half the thing… Whether it was, like, Orson Welles, or Shakespeare. Or, actually, specifically, Orson Welles’ Shakespeare. That’d be a good one. [Laughs].

Actually, most of Destroyer is inspired by Orson Welles’ take on Shakespeare… [but] I will say that Kaputt is the first record to take most of its inspiration from nonverbal things.

SFBG When you come through San Francisco to tour, hang out, whatever, what do you like doing here?

DB Man, I’d love to have an actual free day in San Francisco, just to walk around. Generally, when I’m on tour, I don’t take too much advantage of where I am. I’m more like a gladiator who paces the bus, or a dank back-room and then is let out of his cage to go onstage. I might hit a bookstore or something.

Finally, Bejar’s impulsive list of five records he finds inspiring, right now. In no particular order:

The Tony Bennett / Bill Evans Album (1975)
– Bark Psychosis: Hex (1994)
– Charlie Haden: Liberation Music Orchestra (1969)
– The Church: Priest=Aura (1992)
– Cliff Martinez: Solaris OST (2002)

With Sandro Perri, Colossal Yes
Tue/5, 9pm, $25
1805 Geary, SF
(415) 346-6000

Destroy build destroy



MUSIC “Harsh urban space, with a light misting.” That’s how Dan Bejar describes 2011’s Kaputt, his ninth full-length under the Destroyer moniker; listen to it with headphones, on a foggy day in San Francisco, and you just might agree.

Much has been made of the stylistic shift the Vancouver singer-songwriter has initiated on this record. Awash with fretless bass, lite-jazz sax noodling, and a syrupy synth-haze reminiscent of Avalon by Roxy Music, Kaputt comes across as subdued and wistful, in contrast to the baroque, acerbic tone of his previous output.

Bejar spoke with me over the phone from his home in Vancouver, detailing the second Destroyer lineup since the release of Kaputt, and their renewed approach to the material, as, “more dynamic and muscular than the aesthetic of the production… it’s mostly just a disco band, really,” he explains, with a tinge of sarcasm. “Yeah, hard-rock disco.”

However, while the previous tour was almost exclusively concerned with translating Kaputt to the stage, Bejar suggests that his current octet has, “probably learned twice as much material as any other Destroyer band before it.” The upcoming tour will find Destroyer approaching older, guitar and piano-based songs with trumpet, sax, and mega-synths for the first time. “We’ve not necessarily Kaputtified [the older material],” he explains, “but definitely given things a new sound.”

Kaputtified? Bejar wouldn’t likely be using this word if the album didn’t possess such a distinct, consistent atmosphere. The production aesthetic of Kaputt has inspired countless nerd-debates over the past year or so, largely concerning the merits of tributing a musical era — the early 1980sthat some listeners find questionable these days.

“I think there’s some things on the record that, some people might find repellent,” Bejar observes. “Not necessarily younger people so much as people my age, or a bit older, who maybe lived through the late ’70s and the ’80s, and were kind of just bludgeoned with really bad examples of production techniques and instrumentation that went down.”

That said, Bejar himself is hesitant to slap the “’80s” tag on Kaputt, despite this strong reaction from the blogosphere. “You never know when your intentions, and when the reality of what you’re doing, match up,” he admits, “[but] I always just think the songs are distinct enough that they can just grab hold of whatever style they feel like, and still come out sounding like their own voice.”

Another common misconception about Kaputt is the suggestion that it was written and recorded from a nostalgic perspective. After all, Bejar was a mere nine years of age when Avalon came out. “I don’t think it’s really nostalgic,” he insists. “I’ve always thought of it more as, say, someone on their deathbed, pumped full of morphine, maybe seeing what visions go wafting by.”

This deathbed image sheds some light on what Bejar describes as a “blankness” at the heart of Kaputt‘s songwriting and vocal delivery. “The sense of space was always important,” he contends. “There’s probably half the word count than there is on any other Destroyer album.” This relative economy of words is reflected in Kaputt‘s relaxed, unhurried pacing, which provides a stark contrast to the freewheeling energy of, say, 2006’s Destroyer’s Rubies.

In describing his aesthetic influences, Bejar mentions, “most of my inspiration comes from Miles Davis, on a daily basis, anyway,” Thinking within that context, Kaputt very well might be Destroyer’s In a Silent Way: a deeply transitional affair steeped in lush ambiance, with the ability to go hog-wild, but the class, restraint, and wisdom to keep things at a simmer.

It’s an ideal soundtrack to this city at its grayest. A light misting, indeed.


With Sandro Perri, Colossal Yes

Tue/5, 9pm, $25


1805 Geary, SF

(415) 346-6000



Snap Sounds: Bullion


Love Me Oh Please Love Me EP

Releasing singles and EPs as Bullion since 2008, laptop-whiz Nathan Jenkins has managed to avoid the generic, cut-and-paste aesthetic that’s corralled so many of his colleagues into mediocrityville. He’s always edited his samples with an old-school rock musician’s touch, allowing the drums, synths, and guitars to breathe, instead of exposing them to heavy-handed whiplash.

With the release of Love Me Oh Please Love Me, the British beatmaker has taken a hard left-turn with his craft. He writes lyrics, sings, and plays guitar. There’s even a Robert Wyatt cover. This is the sound of a musician striving to escape a creative rut, reaching far beyond the confines of a genre riddled with self-imposed limitations.

Much like Bibio’s Ambivalence Avenue (2009), the EP finds Bullion weaving a newfound folk influence through the IDM and hip-hop themes we’ve come to expect of him, resulting in a jerry-rigged fusion that sounds somewhat off, but intriguingly so.

While it’s not his most consistent or successful work (that would be 2009’s Young Heartache), this EP shows more promise than any previous Bullion release, opening up his creative future in a big way.


Party like it’s 1986: “Big Fun in the Big Town”


Toward the end of Big Fun in the Big Town (released today and available here), Dutch filmmaker Bram Van Splunteren’s love letter to the birth of hip-hop in NYC, we’re treated to an interview with a young LL Cool J at his Grandma’s house in Queens. The newly released documentary, compiled from footage that’s been collecting dust in a European warehouse since 1986, is full of these revelatory moments, painting a vivid picture of an art form in the process of defining and justifying itself.


It’s endearing and revealing to witness younger versions of superstars like Run-DMC, Grandmaster Flash, and Russell Simmons discussing their artistic philosophy early on in their careers, hungry for the success and celebrity we now know they achieved. Van Splunteren effortlessly conveys his passion for hip-hop, and talent for filmmaking, without upstaging the musicians at the film’s center. Edited with a deft hand, Big Fun in the Big Town breezes through its 40-minute running time, offering a fresh take on one of the great paradigm shifts in American music history.